I almost wrote an article about Zareth San. Don’t get me wrong, I love Zareth San in the 99 of a Rogue deck, but as I mentioned on Twitter, I think the card is a lot worse off due to the fact that it can’t have Commander Ninjutsu. I was therefore relieved when Anowon, the Ruin Thief came along and I got to edit my decklist in order to keep things a little more cohesive.
Look at how much better Anowon is as a Commander! First off, he’s a Lord, which Rogues sorely need as most of their creatures are not a power and toughness bonanza. Second off, he leans into the mill theme, powering up the new Rogues that want opposing graveyards to have 8 or more cards in them. I’m not planning to build a mill deck, though – mill won’t be the win condition today, but it certainly will be part of how we win. Sounds confusing, but I promise it makes sense.
We should actually talk about that more. Milling your opponents is bad. No, seriously, it’s bad. If you are not going to mill someone out really hard and win that way, all you’re doing is putting cards in their graveyards for them to get back later with reanimation or recursion effects. In Commander, your graveyard is really just your hand with extra steps, so in order to make this milling make any sense, I’ll be doing my best to find ways to make the milling worthwhile, but please keep in mind the idea that I am taking a huge gameplay risk in order to stay on theme with this mill thing. You have been warned.
I’d like to mention that, while I built this deck largely before the Anowon preconstructed deck was revealed, I took some of the card choices from that deck once the list showed up, so you will notice some similarities. You can consider this kind of a precon upgrade article, except that it’s very different from how I approach those since I built this deck from the ground up.
Let’s get started by talking about our creatures – we have 29 of them, and 25 of them are Rogues!
These four support the mill subtheme by milling our opponents even further. Obviously we have a range of power here – Zulaport Duelist is more important as a one-mana Rogue that has a minor combat trick attached than as a mill tool, but every little bit helps. Balustrade Spy, by contrast, is all about the mill and nothing else, with the other two falling somewhere in between. It’s interesting how Thieves’ Guild Enforcer was a teaser for this theme – I love that kind of thing. Maybe that’s why I love Party so much – I assume we’ll see Warriors in Kaldheim, Wizards in Strixhaven, some Rogues and Clerics in the Innistrad sets, and the whole package in Dungeons and Dragons: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. That’s a digression, though – let’s get back to the main event.
I tend to be very devoted to the chosen creature type when I build tribal decks, but this was one of the exceptions I had to make. I want there to be some mill power available even when we can’t swing in for damage, so I grabbed a few mill-focused cards from outside the Rogue type. Consuming Aberration was one of the first cards I picked out, so it’s amusing to see it in the precon as well.
Now that we have some mill support, what are we doing with that mill? How are we leveraging opponents’ graveyards?
Nezumi Graverobber starts as a Rogue but flips into a Wizard, which is a little strange, but it’s a powerful way to leverage opposing graveyards. Obviously we will want to focus this rat’s efforts on one opponent to start with in order to keep other graveyards decently stocked while emptying one in particular, but once it flips, it becomes a powerhouse. Nighthawk Scavenger is more of a broadly applicable card, but if you’re milling the table a little bit it’s likely to outpace Vampire Nighthawk by a decent clip.
Let’s weave back to mill support – with Anowon in play, we need our Rogues to connect. So who’s coming to the red zone?
I put my foot down before dipping into three drops for Marang River Prowler, and the four-cost Whirler Rogue didn’t make my list – my squad of elite unblockables stays at 2 CMC or less. Ghostly Pilferer is a remarkably cool card – who knew this was what happened when you stole the Key to the City? At least, that’s how I interpret the flavor of the card. The rest are fairly normal to see in a deck of this nature, with Looter il-Kor being the oddball choice of the lot. I think it’s a good one, though – always loot, right?
Rogues have minimal tribal support, or they did prior to this set – what do we have to make a Rogue deck make sense as a concept?
Zareth San and his Great Value Ninjutsu ability stand out here as a powerful reason to play Rogues and mill opponents, as grabbing any permanent out of their graveyard is a great prize. Soaring Thought-Thief amps up damage and helps you fill up graveyards. Oona’s Blackguard and Stinkdrinker Bandit create serious consequences when our Rogues go unblocked, and Auntie’s Snitch is a solid recursive threat that reinforces that theme. Finally, Frogtosser Banneret is both a great cost reducer and a great card name.
Let’s take a look at some utility Rogues.
The first four cards are focused on taking things that don’t belong to us. I’m fond of Agent of Treachery in this deck in particular because we’re not blinking it like crazy, though we can recur it fairly using Zareth San, and our other ways to grab permanents we don’t own make the draw trigger at least vaguely realistic. The last four are more varied. Enigma Thief is the newest card printed with Prowl and has the confusing ability to bounce things mostly during postcombat main. I’m not sure if that’s good, but frankly I’m willing to try anything with Prowl because it seems fun. Glasspool Mimic is a Mirror Image with a land on the other side, which is exciting. Brazen Borrower has some bounce utility, and Sygg is a repeatable card draw engine that doesn’t even require us to be dealing damage.
Our last three creatures aren’t Rogues, but they’re focused on graveyard synergies. Dimir Doppelganger can become a creature card in any graveyard, while Sepulchral Primordial casts a Mass Resurrection on creatures from around the table that have been killed or milled. Syr Konrad can deal some serious burst damage with Anowon or other mill engines around, and if Rogues were more powerful, it might not be very much fun to have him around.
Let’s move on to noncreature spells, starting with some tribal artifact power.
I’m not as deep on these as I sometimes go, but Obelisk of Urd provides a much needed stat boost to our tiny creatures, while Vanquisher’s Banner walks the middle road between card draw and buffing while doing a good job with both.
Who doesn’t want an unending source of Rogues? Well, I don’t when I’m at low life, but my experience with this card in Standard back in the day leads me to believe I’ll always have it on turn two. Yep, I can’t see a problem here. (Okay, maybe I just love this card.)
Two more cards with Prowl, and they couldn’t be more different. Notorious Throng costs more to Prowl than it does to cast normally, but it’ll get you an extra turn if you do. I’m not normally into these effects, but when it’s just one extra turn on something that’s on theme, I don’t have an issue with it. Knowledge Exploitation is a hilarious way to dig up a board wipe in a desperate situation or cast some absurd 8-mana sorcery on the cheap.
I know I said milling was bad, but we’re already doing it, so let’s lean in. Altar of the Brood helps keep the milling going right in that risky range that I mentioned previously, while Mindcrank is much burstier and more reminiscent of Anowon’s ability. (I had Mindcrank slotted in well before I knew Anowon existed, so I find the similarity amusing.) Meanwhile, the two blue enchantments cause milling to happen as long as Magic is being played, which means you can just play them and not worry too much about making them happen. Just don’t forget those triggers!
Coastal Piracy really got some upgrades in the last however many years, with both Bident and Reconnaissance Mission offering some serious upside. Open into Wonder can enable a victorious alpha strike or just create a situation where you get some card draw and trigger Anowon – either way is fine by me.
No, seriously, don’t block my creatures. Don’t even try. You can’t.
At this point you’re wondering why I said all that negative stuff about milling and still leaned into it. We saw some of the reasons why in the creature base, but let me add a few more cards to make it seem smarter:
Yes, we’re going to do some reanimation of other peoples’ stuff. Beacon of Unrest can grab a creature or an artifact, and the new Whispersteel Dagger lets us cast creatures from graveyards on a repeatable basis. The rest are more straightforward – Rise from the Grave is what a card called Zombify probably should have said, The Eldest Reborn is on a bit of a delay but accrues some value along the way, and Extract from Darkness has some extra mill attached in case things go bad with graveyards.
Okay, sometimes we need a release valve for graveyards. Here’s one that also allows us to eat specific cards.
Gotta have some ramp. Thought Vessel might actually get to do its thing in this deck!
I went with the stronger effects here as opposed to some of the more thematic removal and countermagic I could have chosen, although Drown in the Loch is kind of an exception to that rule despite being powerful.
Let’s take a quick jaunt through the manabase before we see the whole decklist!
I don’t actually know how good these lands are in Commander yet, but I figure trying them is better than not trying them.
I have this strange feeling Anowon is going to have a target on his head. Command Beacon will help with the whole commander tax issue.
We may occasionally want a little extra mill, and it’s almost free to include this.
A fairly average suite of utility lands, featuring graveyard hate, nonbasic hate, and insurance for big hand sizes.
I love cycling lands – it’s painful to topdeck a basic in the late game sometimes, and I love how the new double-faced cards approach this problem too, but I’m happy to jam five cyclers in a two-color deck like this.
Of course, that means I want to focus on dual lands that enter untapped, because if we have to play those cyclers tapped, we’ll have trouble curving out. This is a solid selection of lands that should be immediately useful in the early game and midgame – the key times to stay on curve.
Round things out with 8 Islands and 7 Swamps and you’ve got a deck! Stay tuned for the final article in this series, as Lee Livingston will be closing it out with his take on Warriors. Tweet your rogue decklists, your Rogue tribal decklists, and your complaints about this joke to @RagingLevine. Here’s the full list – see you next time!
Commander: Anowon, the Ruin Thief
Agent of Treachery
Gonti, Lord of Luxury
Sygg, River Cutthroat
Syr Konrad, the Grim
Thieves’ Guild Enforcer
Zareth San, the Trickster
Altar of the Brood
Beacon of Unrest
Bident of Thassa
Black Sun’s Zenith
Crook of Condemnation
Drown in the Loch
Extract from Darkness
Obelisk of Urd
Open into Wonder
Rise from the Grave
Talisman of Dominance
The Eldest Reborn
Clearwater Pathway // Murkwater Pathway